You know that flight to St Lucia that seems so reasonable you can’t not book it? You can already picture yourself diving into the bluest of seas, rum in hand after scaling a volcano.
Except its hurricane season, so the only thing you’ll be doing is staring at your hotel room ceiling, having read the John Le Carre book you took for the third time in a week, wishing you’d checked when the best time to go to the Caribbean is.
Firstly, always be suspicious of cheap long haul flights. Secondly, this Lonely Planet guide has done all the research for you so you know the best time of the year to travel to places.
Aptly called Where to go When, Lonely Planet’s new book is ram-a-jam with expert insight and infographics to plan your best break.
Here are some of the highlights for each month of the year:
Christmas hit the bank balance, but jealous of your wanky friends skiing? A short break to Bulgaria will give you good bang for your buck on the slopes, like half the price of a week in the Alps.
Further afield, book a trip to Uganda – it’s dry season and perfect for tracking mountain gorillas for a once in a lifetime experience.
And for those who want to channel their inner Narcos (although please don’t ), Colombia has some of its best weather in January. Dry and warm and host to Cartagena’s literary Hays Festival, which “adds a literary sheen with big-name authors speaking among the bougainvillea-clad balconies and cobbled alleys of Cartagena de Indias’ old town”.
Other destinations: Tasmania, Tanzania, Sydney (Australia), Russia, Myanmar, Honshu (Japan), Kerala (India), Andaman Coast (Thailand), Botswana, Guatemala and more.
Don’t let those grey skies put you off – it’s apparently not as cold as you think. Lonely Planet says, “ The Gulf Stream keeps this almost Arctic island is warmer than New York City (average: 37°F; 3°C) while, by month’s end, the sun’s up before 9am and doesn’t set until after 6pm. Fortunately, this still leaves a good amount of darkness in which to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights. There are plenty of wintry activities on offer too: glacier hikes, snowmobile safaris, ice caving, superjeep drives across volcanoes...You can even snorkel between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at Silfra – fed by glaciers, the water temperature varies little year-round, and you’ll be snug inside a dry suit.”
But then again, you could also snorkel and dive in Honduras on a budget in glorious sunshine:
“The islands are also idyllic, with powdery whitesand beaches and clear Caribbean waters (visibility is best February to June). The marine life is incredible too, with species such as dolphins, hawksbill turtles, eagle rays and reef sharks present year-round, and whale sharks passing by February to May.”
Or thaw out in Singapore in it’s driest month, feasting on chilli crabs and street food like roti cenai (flaky yet doughy Indian bread served with curry, available all day everyday).
Other destinations: Dominican Republic, Kenya, Ladakh (India), Wyoming (USA), Southern Portugal, Cape Verde, Côte d'Azur (France), Rio De Janeiro (Brazil) and Mendoza (Argentina).
For screensaver level beaches, you’re going to want to go to Trinidad and Tobago. “Rather than big cruise ships and package tourists, little Tobago attracts nature-lovers, snorkellers and divers. March has the fine weather you’d want on a beach holiday, but also brings nesting sea turtles – green, leatherback and hawksbill – who return to the patches of sand from which they hatched to lay their own eggs,” says Lonely Planet.
There’s more wonderous nature at the Igazu Falls in Brazil and Argentina which are in full flow:
“By March, crowds have thinned, the weather is becoming more temperate and less damp, but the falls are still dramatically powerful.”
Meanwhile in Europe, Valencia in Spain starts gearing up for warmer weather:
“Sample Spain’s finest paella in the spring sunshine. Spain’s third city heats up in March – meteorologically and culturally. This is the month when a legion of huge figures called ninots are constructed in the city centre, then burned in a vast conflagration accompanied by the fireworks and festivities of Las Fallas.”
Other destinations: Western Cape (South Africa), South Island (New Zealand), Austin (USA), Sichuan (China), Costa Rica, Crete (Greece) and North Wales (UK).
Around 80 pieces of paradise make up the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu and April is the time to go and explore:
“The vibrant, volcanopocked nation is home to 100 indigenous languages, a cannibalistic past, blow-yourmind kava potions and many tribal rituals. For instance, head to Pentecost island on any Saturday, April to June, to see the naghol. Rickety land towers, 20m to 30m high (66ft to 98ft), are built from sticks, and young men leap from the tops, with only a vine tied round their ankles to break their fall. A fertility rite, it celebrates the yam harvest – and has inspired many a bungyjumper since.”
In a slightly more compact Jordan, which is experiencing it’s best temperature for all it has to offer (beach, desert, ancient wonders, cities, landscapes and wildlife) you can Indiana Jones until your heart is content.
Closer to home, the Lake District peak around April:
“New-born lambs gambolling, Wordsworth’s daffodils nodding, the hills an extraordinary shade of green. Services such as boats across the lakes are becoming more frequent, yet summer tourists haven’t descended, so roads, campsites and honey-pot towns aren’t heaving, and holiday cottages are more affordable”
Other destinations: Rome (Italy), California (USA), Thailand, Nepal, St Lucia, Glapagos Islands (Ecuador), Hawaii (USA), Mauritius, Brussels (Belgium) and Istanbul (Turkey).
Good things come in small packages, which applies to Montenegro. “In May, temperatures on the coast reach the mid-20°Cs (70°Fs) and the sea warms up, so you can happily hit dazzling Adriatic spots such as cliff-hugged Kotor and medieval Budva before the crowds descend...May sees the start of rafting season through Europe’s deepest, longest canyon – the Tara River is full of snow-melt, lively but safe”
Get to Cuba before everyone you know:
“If you like it hot, in all manner of ways, choose Cuba in May. Technically, it’s the first month of the wet, hot, low season on this coolest of Caribbean isles. But in reality, temperatures don’t get uncomfortable until June, and heavy rains don’t fall until late July. There are ‘offseason’ bargains to be found too.”
May is also the best time to hit Route 66 through the US, from Chicago to Santa Monica and past everything in-between:
“The 66 ‘season’ starts in May: earlier, and it’ll be cold at the route’s higher elevations; by July, the desert will be scorching and the roads busier.”
Other destinations: Skye (Scotland), Prague (Czech Republic), West Coast Norway, Cornwall (England), Peru, Morocco, Reunion, Bermuda, Samoa and Uzbekistan.
Orkney may be further north than you’d like, but the benefit of that is pretty much endless summer days. The accent is even weirder than the mainland’s but that just adds to the feeling that you’re not in the UK. “For a more mystical summer solstice, on 20 June head to the Ring of Brodgar, a 341ft-wide (104m) stone circle on the Orkney isle Mainland. At this epicentre of a unique collection of neolithic sites, the longest day is celebrated with music, poetry and readings.”
Iran may not spring to mind when you think of summer holidays, but since the nuclear deal the hopes are it will have a whole lot to show you:
“Political posturing wins column inches, but there are so many treasures that really deserve the headlines: the extraordinary Islamic architecture of Esfahan, with its intricate blue patterned tiles; the huge, bustling bazaars of Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz or Tabriz; the magnificent remains at Persepolis, dating back two-and-a-half millennia; the deserts; the poems; the food; and – most of all – the warm, welcoming people. By June the mercury is rising fast at lower altitudes, but prices and crowds are dropping.”
Over in America, Yosemite National Park is waking up from hibernation making for the perfect time to connect to nature:
“It is truly special, a great glacier-gouged valley, with soaring domes and pinnacles, crashing waterfalls, meadows edged by oaks, cedars and firs, and wildlife in abundance. In late spring, the park is awakening.”
Other destinations: Bora Bora (French Polynesia), Greenland, Jamaica, Verona (Italy), Lisbon (Portugal), Sardinia (Italy), Canadian Rockies, Dubrovnik (Croatia), Malaysian Borneo and Arctic Norway.
For a budget-friendly break, Bosnia and Hercegovina will give you a history lesson but also a thrill:
“Bridge jumps happen all summer [off the bridge across the Neretva River in Mostar], but it’s at the end of July that thousands gather for the Ikari, the longest-running high-dive competition. It’s white-knuckle just watching.”
On the other end of the spectrum, blow your savings in Japan. Just before it gets unbearably hot and humid later in summer, you can scale Mt Fuji and when Kyoto is full of festivals.
For more spectacular scenery, The Dolomites in Italy provide jagged peaks and exploration galore:
“It also echoes with human history: between 1915 and 1918 Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces fought amid these unforgiving peaks, and remnants such as trenches and gun emplacements can still be seen.”
Other destinations: Mongolia, The Baltic, Suffolk (England), Alaska (USA), Netherlands, Azores, Antigua, Copenhagen (Denmark), Black Forest (Germany),
Turkey’s Turquoise Coast didn’t get it’s name for nothing. Sail boats rule the warm waterways and there’s reasonable accommodation even in the high season.
Similarly, the accommodation in Ecuador is a bargain, though you’ll be in a somewhat different landscape:
“Both highlands and rainforest are driest in August, so it’s prime time for absorbing the cultural highlights and getting active on volcanoes and rafting whitewater rivers. Ecuador’s a bargain, to boot, with great-value accommodation.”
Animal lover? August is one of the best times to safari in Kenya and see the migration of 1.5 wildebeast:
“When hundreds of thousands of trundling wildebeest hit a river, you get a huge bottleneck – the gnu-jam to end them all. And when they wade in to cross en masse, frantically splashing and dodging hungry crocodiles, it’s the highest drama imaginable.”
Other destinations: Ko Samui (Thailand), Champagne (France), Tonga, Spanish Pyranese, Cook Islands, Stockholm (Sweden), Madagascar, Buenos Aires (Argentina), Papa New Guinea and Berlin (Germany).
Sumatra and Java offer a comprehensive taster of Indonesia without seeing everything – wildlife, culture and stunning scenery. “September offers the best overall conditions: mostly dry, with great surf off the west coast but lower visitor numbers and even cheaper prices.”
September is also the best time to visit the Great Wall of China, “after the steamy heat of summer, September brings relief with mellowing temperatures and falling humidity, a window of calm between summer and the national holiday in the first week of October.”
Closer to home, drive over to France where the roads are calmer – “You don’t want to tackle these roads in high summer, when the whole of France decamps to Corsica’s gorgeous shores. Instead, wait until September, when the air and sea are still warm, and the beaches – arguably Europe’s best – are empty again.”
Other destinations: South Korea, North Cyprus, Whitsunday Island (Australia), Madeira (Portugal), Tibet, South Africa, Lima (Peru) and The Cotswolds (England).
Strike lucky in Vietnam for the perfect Insta pics:
“Vietnam’s quirky climate, with two monsoons in winter and summer, means it’s tricky to find the balance between hot, cold, dry and wet. October ticks most boxes: fairly clear weather in the north for Hanoi and Halong Bay, warm enough for trekking around Sapa, drying off around Saigon and the Mekong Delta. It’s also low season for tourism.”
Feel very British and a little Wes Anderson in Darjeeling, India. Oh, and a cracking view of the Himalayas – “A crisp, clear October day is a good time to ensure perfect panoramas, or to hit the trails.”
For adventure, it’s off to Bolivia:
“In October, the end of the dry, all roads should be mudfree and passable, while skies are brilliant blue, temperatures are warming and peakseason crowds have gone. Negotiating the mountains and raw, breath-stealing altiplano can still be arduous...”
Other destinations: Fiji, Oman, Seychelles, New Mexico, Namibia, Bhutan, Slovakia, Lyon (France), Highlands (Scotland), Taiwan, New York City (USA),
Winter blues start kicking in hard right around November. Take your light-deprived mole self to Nicaragua for a beach break with a bit of character:
“November is a great month, with the countryside fresh from recent rains yet the weather dry and warm (20-28°C).”
For sunshine closer to home, hit up Madrid with it’s open-air tapas bars and terraces:
“For a more local atmosphere, visit Madrid when it’s largely free of tourists – such as off-season November. Weather can be variable – some sunny T-shirt days, some wet ones – but the latter don’t dampen the marcha (action)”
For a city worth sacrificing a non-city holiday for, Hong Kong has you covered. The November temperatures are perfect for exploring and compliment the inevitable dim-sum coma you’ll spend most of your time in.
Other destinations: Goa (India), Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Australia, New Zealand, Abu Dhabi, Uruguay, Florida (USA), Mexico City (Mexico) and Chile.
You can embrace winter and literally chill out on the Glacier Express that glides through snowy Switzerland:
“Alps landscape is at its most spectacular in winter – with the bonus of fantastic skiing at both ends”
Or you can run for the heat and head to Senegal when the weather is dry and warm and “the ideal time to visit this Francophone nation, when the mangrove swamps of Djoudj and Saloum Delta national parks fill with flamingos, pelicans and dazzling migratory birds en route south from Europe, and when the swells rolls in off the Atlantic for reliable, big-wave surfing.”
Or go one step further and take yourself to the Sahara:
“Look up into the night sky in mid-December and you could see hundreds of shooting stars. There are few better places to experience the Geminid meteor shower than the Sahara Desert in southern Morocco, where light pollution is nonexistent and camping in Berber tents adds to the allure. December is a fine time to explore Morocco; yes, it’s cooler, but crowds are minimal, prices low, and the souks of medieval Fez and Marrakesh as mesmerising as ever – great for families, too.”
Other destinations: Sierra Leone, Estonia, New Orleans (USA), Trinidad, Tallinn (Estonia), Laos, Micronesia, Southern Patagonia (Chile, Argentina), San Sebastian (Spain), Southern Amazon (Peru) and Arctic Sweden.
Reproduced with permission from Where to Go When, © 2016 Lonely Planet